The Improvisatore, 1821
The Poems, Posthumous and Collected, of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, 1851
The Poetical Works of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, 1890
The Poems of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, 1907
Selected Poems, 1976
The Bride’s Tragedy, pr., pb. 1822
Death’s Jest-Book, pb. 1850
The Letters of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, 1894
The Complete Works of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, 1928
The Works of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, 1935 (H.W. Donner, editor)
Thomas Lovell Beddoes (BEHD-ohz), son of a well-known British physician, Dr. Thomas Beddoes, was also the nephew of Maria Edgeworth, the novelist. He was educated at Charterhouse and Pembroke College, Oxford.
At Oxford, Beddoes read widely in Elizabethan poetry and drama. In 1821, he published The Improvisatore, a volume which already shows Beddoes’s preoccupation with death, the gothic, and the grotesque. This volume was followed by The Bride’s Tragedy, which established him as a poetic dramatist working in the traditions of the Jacobean drama.
The Bride’s Tragedy, in its lyrics and its dramatic blank verse, shows a great advance over The Improvisatore. Beddoes took his degree at Oxford a year late, in 1825, having been called to Italy during his examinations the previous year because of his mother’s fatal illness. In 1825 he left England to study medicine in Göttingen, Germany. Beddoes took his medical degree at Wurzburg in 1832. During the years of his medical study he worked on Death’s Jest-Book, completing it in its initial form as early as 1829. He also became involved in radical German politics. Because of this activity, Beddoes was forced to leave Bavaria shortly after taking his medical degree in 1832, and he took up residence in Zurich, Switzerland. He became involved in politics there and was forced to flee Zurich for Berlin in 1840. Then came a period of wandering. He practiced medicine at various places and, in 1846, visited England briefly, where he revealed himself as having become highly eccentric. He also continued to work on his poetry and plays, including revisions of Death’s Jest-Book. In July, 1848, he attempted suicide at Basel, by cutting open an artery in his leg. He survived this attempt, although he lost his leg. Six months later a second attempt, this time by poison, was successful. His suicide was kept a secret for many years, but more recently biographers have uncovered the evidence which proves that he took his own life. In obedience to Beddoes’s written wishes, Thomas Forbes Kelsall, a long-time friend of the poet, published Death’s Jest-Book in 1850, the year after the author’s death. Death’s Jest-Book is a sprawling poetic drama which is weak in character and structure but which contains blank verse, dramatic prose, and lyrics of great power and beauty. Most of Beddoes’s work shows his obsession with death and horror, but this work expresses the macabre with a verbal vitality that borders on greatness. Beddoes belonged to the last generation of English Romantic poets, which included George Darley, Hartley Coleridge, and Thomas Wade. Like these poets, Beddoes shows an interesting blend of talent and failure, artistic originality and insecurity.